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I first heard about this book on my Facebook news feed, when The Daily Show announced Robinson was going to be their next guest (on Thursday's show). I'll post a link to the interview once it's available online tomorrow. Here's the book description from Amazon:
 

In this ambitious book, acclaimed writer Marilynne Robinson applies her astute intellect to some of the most vexing topics in the history of human thought—science, religion, and consciousness. Crafted with the same care and insight as her award-winning novels, Absence of Mind challenges postmodern atheists who crusade against religion under the banner of science. In Robinson’s view, scientific reasoning does not denote a sense of logical infallibility, as thinkers like Richard Dawkins might suggest. Instead, in its purest form, science represents a search for answers. It engages the problem of knowledge, an aspect of the mystery of consciousness, rather than providing a simple and final model of reality.

By defending the importance of individual reflection, Robinson celebrates the power and variety of human consciousness in the tradition of William James. She explores the nature of subjectivity and considers the culture in which Sigmund Freud was situated and its influence on his model of self and civilization. Through keen interpretations of language, emotion, science, and poetry, Absence of Mind restores human consciousness to its central place in the religion-science debate.



Has anyone read it yet?

 

It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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I've paged through it at the bookstore, but haven't read it. I'm looking forward to the interview. Please link to it here when it's available. Thanks.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I have dabbled in it. I have the same issue here as I do with Walker Percy (peace be upon him) - they are both way better at fiction than they are philosophical discourse.

Edited by M. Leary

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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I read a book review of it somewhere--CT or Books and Culture, I'm thinking. It sounded like it might be a bit over my head, so I'm curious to see what others' opinions will be.

I like to say that I practice militant mysticism. I'm really absolutely sure of some things that I don't quite know.~~Rob Bell April/09 CT

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The book is made up mostly of material from the Terry Lectures, which are streaming from the Yale website.

I think I would prefer to read her, though. Though the Daily Show appearance was a great surprise, she doesn't seem like the most captivating public speaker.

Everything that matters is invisible.

-- Robert Bresson

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  • 2 months later...

Christianity Today's excellent interview with Marilynne Robinson

This earns a hearty A&F "Wow. Just... wow."

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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And by the way... this is a "web-only" feature at Christianity Today.

Huh.

Why isn't this a cover story in the current print issue of Christianity Today?

It's one of the most important conversations they could offer their audience. But according to this, it's a web-only feature. I don't understand.

But then... who am I to claim that a Pulitzer-Prize-winning and best-selling author's views on the reconciling faith and science might be important to Christianity Today's readers? They know better than I do what's really cover-story-worthy....

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I thought of this when I linked to the article on Facebook and had to choose an image. I went with the CT cover, thinking the Robinson interview was in that issue. But the cover story is … well, controversial, and probably a distraction to the interview I was trying to highlight. I should’ve gone with no image for that FB link.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I haven't followed the print edition of CT in a while, but I wouldn't say this interview feels like cover-story material. I mean, for one thing, it isn't a "story"; it's just a Q&A that was done to publicize a book. If the author had been someone Really Significant, like a president publishing his memoirs or something, then that might warrant cover placement -- but it isn't, so it doesn't.

I also wonder if this "interview" was done voice-to-voice, as interviews should be, or if it was simply an exchange of e-mails. Parts of it feel "written" -- especially the bit where the interviewer puts a Bible verse, with chapter and verse, in parentheses.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I also wonder if this "interview" was done voice-to-voice, as interviews should be, or if it was simply an exchange of e-mails. Parts of it feel "written" -- especially the bit where the interviewer puts a Bible verse, with chapter and verse, in parentheses.

That's the impression I had, too. I doubt Robinson and the interviewer were ever in the same place, or on the same phone line.

It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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Yeah, the piece isn't cover-ready *now*, and it feels like an email exchange. But there was an opportunity here to do something big, to make it a combination of thoughtful pieces, debates, excerpts.... I mean, isn't this as important, or more so, than most that have been on CT's cover lately? I know they're a business and they need to sell copies. But this feels like a missed opportunity for something that could have inspired a very influential conversation.

Oh well, I'm not in those meetings, so what do I know? I'm sure glad they published this, even if they didn't think it was print-worthy.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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In Slate today, Robinson is yet again acknowledged a candidate for the title "Great American Novelist." She's been on The Daily Show with John Stewart. She's a Pulitzer-Prize winner. She's a NYTimes Bestseller. She's been in Books and Culture, yes, but has she ever been on the cover of CT? Maybe she has been, and I've just forgotten.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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If she's best-known (and won a Pulitzer) for her novels, would a non-fiction book really by the right occasion on which to make her the CT cover girl? Wouldn't THAT send an awkward message about the marginalization of art and fiction in the evangelical world?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Well... if she's good enough for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart as an important voice on the subject of faith and science...

I'd love to see her on the cover of CT for either reason: art or philosophy. She's got wonderful things to say about either.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Good point!

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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And that's one of the reasons I'm glad Image exists.

There would be wisdom in putting a spotlight on Robinson's views for CT's readers. But make that possibility attractive to someone with the reputation and integrity of Robinson, that's another challenge altogether. That involves demonstrating, issue by issue, cover story by cover story, that you're focusing on issues that really matter, reporting with professionalism and integrity, and not compromising for the sake of sales. A lot of "Christian publications" and "Christian media" are leading with celebrities, trends, and divisive political issues, to draw readers, which may sell copies, but it sends a message that our priorities are out of line and no different from any other periodical that has something to "sell." Relevant's "Let's make a cover story out of any celebrity might have something to say about faith" approach killed my interest in that magazine a long time ago, and made their title seem ironic.

Again, I'm glad Image exists. And Books and Culture. And it's something that's important to us at Response too.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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  • 1 month later...

I've posted about this elsewhere, but thought a note here might be in order.

Nov. 6 in McLean, VA, the Reformed Institute is offering a one-day course, "The Heart of the Matter: Marilyn Robinson's Fiction in Light of Her Theology." Registration details can be found here.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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  • 2 years later...

So, after putting it off for far too long, I finally sat down, opened the book this evening and then read the whole thing in one 3-hour sitting. It's really a quick read.

I knew there was a thread on it here, so I was excited to check here and see how the book was discussed, but found instead that, other than a few enthusiastic remarks by Jeff defending what a thinker like Robinson stands for in our modern pop-Christianity setting, the content of the book really been discussed here at all yet.

I've paged through it at the bookstore, but haven't read it.

I'm hoping it's not as dense as The Death of Adam. I appreciated some of the essays in that, but boy, it was mostly way over my pea-brain.

I read a book review of it somewhere--CT or Books and Culture, I'm thinking. It sounded like it might be a bit over my head, so I'm curious to see what others' opinions will be.

Well, I'm sorry to say that it is pretty dense. But it's short! And some parts are worth re-reading and pondering a bit.

Thoughts:

- Yes, it is "dense" in the sense that it is very thoughtful and intellectual. But that is not a bad thing. Yes, I didn't understand all of it. But really, that's my fault, not Robinson's. And it certainly is not a good reason to avoid reading it.

- Her Introduction discusses the supposed division between religion and science. She accuses many modern scientific writers of reducing the capacity of the human mind in their attempts to deny the spiritual. The accusation seems quite just. She also points out (later in the book) that this reductionist view of the mind is not necessary, even for a person who is not religious.

- In Chapter 1 "On Human Nature," Robinson discusses the trend in contemporary writing of assuming that we, in modern times, have "crossed a threshold" of new scientific or technological discoveries that are supposed to radically change and challenge our of humanity's past assumptions. Claiming the authority of science to discuss this type of philosophic "paradigm shifting" is, she argues, actually intellectual dishonest. Any "historical threshold" that we are supposed to have passed has not changed many historically universal truths about human nature and asserting that we have finally crossed such a threshold is almost and old, outworn and dated assertion. I've been knocking into this modern dismissive attitude towards our past more and more often and I'm not sure how to respond to it. Robinson just helped me a little.

- In Chapter 2 "The Strange History of Altruism," she reminded me a little of C.S. Lewis's discussion of the objections to the natural law, namely "the herd instinct" which is supposed to explain why human beings sometimes act self-sacrificially for the sake of others. Robinson discusses more recent attempts to explain away "altruism" or selfless acts as genetically predetermined - or evolutionarily supposed to have successfully developed as a means of natural selection - or as one of Richard Dawkins' "memes," and then she casually takes each of these explanations apart. In fact, while she doesn't elaborate on this, I find the idea that altruistic actions are something that every secular thinker wants to explain away as determined by something other than the will of man fascinating. It leads to other arguments that I wish I could read Robinson on further.

- I'll admit Chapter 3 might be the most difficult one to get through, but her discussion of Freud is one that I've never heard before from a Christian thinker. She sets some of Freud's strange ideas in the setting of post-World War I, pre-World War II Vienna. And then she explains how Freud was struggling against some of the racist and nationalistic thinking that was becoming more and more prevalent in this day. Some of this theories are straight up wacko, but that doesn't mean that he wasn't incredibly intelligent and that some of his explanations for human action were launched against some of the conspiracy theory/racial explanations for human action of that time period. Then Robinson uses a little Descartes against Freud, points out how Freud is used now to support the reduction of the significance of human consciousness, and then asks why so many of Freud's ideas (which were specifically crafted to counter ideas in a very specific and unique period of history) should be so commonly accepted today.

- Chapter 4 confronts the potential philosophic implications of quantum mechanics and multi-verse theory, demolishes a couple of arguments by Steven Pinker, and levels the charge of sort of a neo-dualism against modern scientific insistence upon the brain being the physical cause of the "mind" and the "soul." It was an all around delight to read. The last paragraph of the book was one I had to read and re-read again at least five times for the sheer pleasure of it.

If you haven't read this yet, read it.

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- I'll admit Chapter 3 might be the most difficult one to get through, but her discussion of Freud is one that I've never heard before from a Christian thinker. She sets some of Freud's strange ideas in the setting of post-World War I, pre-World War II Vienna. And then she explains how Freud was struggling against some of the racist and nationalistic thinking that was becoming more and more prevalent in this day. Some of this theories are straight up wacko, but that doesn't mean that he wasn't incredibly intelligent and that some of his explanations for human action were launched against some of the conspiracy theory/racial explanations for human action of that time period. Then Robinson uses a little Descartes against Freud, points out how Freud is used now to support the reduction of the significance of human consciousness, and then asks why so many of Freud's ideas (which were specifically crafted to counter ideas in a very specific and unique period of history) should be so commonly accepted today.

This sounds really interesting to me. Freud is always lurking around the back of my thinking about human subjectivity, in that I contend that it's very difficult for anyone in the contemporary world to think what consciousness is without a Freudian framework (i.e we are the product of unconscious forces that affect us in ways we don't fully understand).

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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This sounds really interesting to me. Freud is always lurking around the back of my thinking about human subjectivity, in that I contend that it's very difficult for anyone in the contemporary world to think what consciousness is without a Freudian framework (i.e we are the product of unconscious forces that affect us in ways we don't fully understand).

This helps me get Robinson's critique a bit more. I also couldn't figure out why she spent so much time on Freud, since I've barely read any of him. But it could be that he helped set the groundwork for contemporary neo-Darwinian materialist reductionism or whatever it's called, yes?

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